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Weekend Writer: The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings by Paula Munier – Chapter Four: The Edge of the Beginning – Where to Begin

Hey all, Sam here.

Okay, we are back to the deep dives of this book about beginnings. And honestly doing this deep dive into the beginnings of books is fairly timely, because at the moment I’m going over the beginning of my manuscript and I can look at the story opening with fresh eyes because it has been a few years since I’ve last read my book. I keep staring at the printed pages, sitting there all pretty and clean and unmarked…and I know very soon I’m going to have colorful scribblings over quite a bit of it.

But I can say that the deeper I get into this book, the more I don’t really want to keep reading. Yes, I’m getting a lot of information from it, and I can see how the book is useful, but a lot of it also feels like it’s dragging and somewhat repetitive. But, maybe that’s just me.

All right, okay, let’s jump into Chapter 4.

Give your story its best start!

The best beginnings possess a magical quality that grabs readers from the first word and never lets them go. But beginnings aren’t just the door into a fictional world. They are the gateway to the realm of publishing–one that could shut as quickly as it opens.

In The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, author and literary agent Paula Munier shows you how to craft flawless beginnings that impress agents, engage editors, and captivate readers. You’ll learn how to develop the big idea of your story and introduce it on page one, structure opening scenes that encompass their own story arc, kickstart your writing with effective brainstorming techniques, and introduce a compelling cast of characters that drive the plot. You’ll also examine the best-selling novels from different genres to learn the secrets that experienced writers use to dive straight into a story.

With thorough examinations of voice, point of view, setting, dialogue and conflict, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings is a must-have tool for luring your readers in with your opening pages–and convincing them to stick around for the ride.

“Writing a book? Hard. Writing the beginning of a book? Rocket science! Strap on your spacesuit, because thanks to Munier’s nuanced, actionable breakdown of every possible aspect of a gripping opening, authors everywhere can now take their books to the stars.” —K.M. Weiland

Chapter Four: The Edge of the Beginning – Where to Begin

All right, so the chapter opens with a Ray Bradbury quote: “Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going, and the next thing I know, I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves.” This leads Munier to say that you know you’ve hit the right story idea when that idea energizes you.

I agree with this, for the most part. Because I think there’s a point in most creative projects where the excitement and energy dwindle a bit, where the stress and reality of the work needed to be done hit you, a point where we as creatives have to dig deep and remind ourselves that we love what we’re creating. Besides, you can love something and have it excite and energize you, and also feel the drain it puts on you.

Munier once again says that to understand this energy and use it best, we obviously have to start at the beginning, and find out where the energy is, where the juice is, and where the momentum is.

This leads to a whole section about scene one fail-safe starter-kit options, because while a hot start to the story works in most instances, with things like literary stories the aim is more for a slow burn. Readers start off cold when it comes to reading your story, and you want to warm them up, much like warming up your vehicle on a cold winter day before traveling.

Thankfully, according to Munier, there are a few different beginning options that work much in the same way that remote start or heated seats helps a car warm up in the winter.

The first of these options is to start with the scene that introduces your story idea. The example given is from “Jaws,” which talks about both the book and the film, as well as the pieces that brought the idea of the story together.

The next option is to start with the scene that foreshadows the story idea, and an example given for this one is the opening of the play “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare or the beginning of “Sleeping Beauty.” Basically with both of those stories there is a statement of prophecy or curse that hints at what will happen in the course of the story.

The third option is to start with the scene that sets up the story idea. One of the examples given is Princess Leia hiding the plans for the Death Star in R2-D2 which sets up the whole story for farm boy Luke to get pulled into all of this, learn about Jedi and using the Force, and destroying the Death Star. This option ends with a quote that I’ve always enjoyed:

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter, it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” – Anton Chekhov

I do enjoy when stories have that sort of set-up and then have it pay off a little later. And numerous literary classes and creative writing lessons I’ve indulged in have brought up the Chekhov’s gun quote and story set up.

The next section isn’t so much an option as it is an anti-option, as in even when you have a story opening that does one of the aforementioned options, the scene can still fail to hold a reader’s attention, and this could be because the scene is trying to tell too much too soon. And this is also one of those telling vs showing moments.

An important sentence mentioned in this part is that what the reader knows for the scene isn’t what the writer needs to know for the scene. Especially when it comes to drafting a story, this is the part where we as creatives are just starting to figure out the characters and the setting and the story, and so sometimes we’ll include way more information and details and setup in the opening than we really need to have in order for the beginning and/or the story to work.

Munier recommends going back through your beginning to find where you might need to trim out the excessive detail. She suggests if you’re having trouble trimming things down then you should print out your beginning and go through it, marking up parts in different colors so you can distinguish between backstory, description, and inner monologue. Munier says that it is tempting to skip this exercise, but she advises us not to do that, and says that this is the exercise that her students, clients, and writer friends all applaud her for.

Another exercise given here is to turn to page 50 in your project and look over it. What happens on page 50? Because most of the time pages 1-49 are unnecessary and your story really starts around page 50.

Well, I read the chapter that started at page 50 in my manuscript and…well, no, that isn’t where the story begins. At least with this one, what is in the pages leading up to page 50 have events happen that set up the conflict of the story, and therefore are necessary.

Still, I can see where this is a decent exercise, because I have heard a few different editors mention this being a somewhat common issue when it comes to fixing story issues.

After this, Munier goes into a section that briefly talks about pacing, emotion, and narrative thrust. Engaging the reader requires juggling all of the elements of fiction (action and dialogue, character and conflict, voice and point of view, setting and theme) and fueling your story with narrative thrust to keep up a certain pace.

To do this can be difficult. Munier says that most writers are terrible at juggling the elements of fiction, and that all too often instead of juggling those balls they toss up one ball and catch it then toss up a different ball and catch it. Munier says this requires very little craft, and that writers need to be master jugglers.

From here, Munier gives us a several page case study, to show off how to juggle between action and dialogue and character and conflict and voice and setting, etc. She gives us several pages, which ends up being the opening scene for a book she wrote years and years ago. And as you go through the writing, she interjects notations to show where bits of sentences go over each particular element of writing….just to show that she bounces from one to another and doesn’t focus on one element for too long.

I’ll be completely honest…I started losing focus while trying to read the story excerpt because of all of the interjections. If they had been set up like margin notes instead then perhaps I would have had more of a desire to work my way through the story opening. From just a couple paragraphs I got a good enough idea of what Munier was going for.

Finally, we are left with an exercise to copy Munier with her story, and go through our own openings to see how well we are juggling the story elements with your own writing.

And that is all from me for today. Thank you so much for stopping by and I’ll be back soon with more geeky content.


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